(Dow Jones Newswires), June 4, 2010
Last week, I attended the memorial service for the 11 men who died aboard the Transocean Deepwater Horizon on April 20. It was both a shattering moment and a vivid reminder of the duty that a manager owes to ensure that team members safely return home to their families.
Americans and others from around the world rightly are asking many questions. How could this happen? How damaging is the spill to the environment? Why have efforts to stop the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf so far failed?
And they are asking questions that have broader implications. Has the industry and the regulatory system governing it been taking unacceptable risks in our work on the geological and technological frontiers? Can we as a society explore for oil and gas in safer and more reliable ways?
The industry and the government did not anticipate this type of accident -- one in which all the "failsafe" mechanisms failed. When it happened, we immediately brought the global resources of BP to bear on the dual challenge of stopping a blown-out oil well at a depth no human could reach while at the same time seeking to contain the resulting flow of oil and gas.
And as the scope of the unfolding disaster became more apparent, we reached out for additional scientists and engineers from our partners and competitors in the energy industry, engineering firms, academia, government and the military.
With the exception of the space program in the 1960s, it is difficult to imagine the gathering of a larger, more technically proficient team in one place in peacetime -- all under the leadership of the federal government's unified command structure headed by U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen, with the active support of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu and Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar.
The ultimate solution to stop the flow of oil and gas from the well is to drill a relief well, a process that takes about three months. We obviously wanted to minimize or stop the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf long before that. So we readied a multifaceted strategy, featuring a series of technological approaches to be deployed in parallel and in sequence. These included a large containment dome that could not be successfully deployed several weeks ago, the riser insertion tube tool (RITT) that was attached with partial success, and the "top kill" and "junk shot" approaches we tried over several days and eventually abandoned on May 30.
The next question people naturally ask is: "What will you do until the relief well is finished?" Based on what we have learned from the approaches taken thus far, we now believe the best way to minimize the flow of oil and gas into the Gulf is to use a lower marine riser package (LMRP) containment system.
This will involve cutting the damaged riser connected to the Deepwater Horizon's blow-out preventer and placing a cap over the LMRP, which should enable us to contain and collect a majority of the oil and gas flowing from the well. We expect to have the LMRP containment system in place in the next few days. If the LMRP containment system begins operations as expected, then we plan to enhance the system with additional features that should capture even more oil and gas out of the Gulf.
We remain in uncharted territory -- none of these approaches has ever been attempted in water a mile deep, where the extreme cold and the intense pressures require experts to carefully adapt proven techniques.
Specialized equipment must be designed, built and tested, compressing operations that normally last weeks or months into days or even hours. Remotely operated vehicle pilots must devise painstaking, step-by-step procedures to deploy the equipment. Like the astronauts aboard Apollo 13 who had to build a CO2 filter from whatever was available in their capsule under the direction of engineers back on Earth, we are forced to innovate in real time. The devices developed in recent weeks, such as the RITT and the LMRP cap, are cases in point.
Here are a few of the lessons as I see them.
First, we need better safety technology. We in the industry have long had great confidence in the blow-out preventer as the ultimate failsafe piece of safety equipment. Yet on this occasion it failed, with disastrous consequences.
Since the April 20 explosions and fire, BP is carefully evaluating the subsea blow-out preventers used in all our drilling operations world-wide, including the testing and maintenance procedures of our drilling contractors using the devices. We will participate in industry-wide efforts to improve the safety and reliability of subsea blow-out preventers and deep water drilling practices.
Second, we need to be better prepared for a subsea disaster. It is clear that our industry should be better prepared to address deep sea accidents of this type and magnitude.
With each major spill, we as an industry learn more. Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the industry recognized the need to enhance its capacity to address oil spills. The result was the Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC), an independent, nonprofit company.
MSRC's capabilities include a significant inventory of vessels, equipment and trained personnel, complemented by a large contractor work force. Thanks to MSRC and other contractors, the impact of the current spill on the Gulf is considerably less than it might otherwise have been.
We now need to develop a similar capability for dealing with large undersea spills. BP intends to have a key role in creating this capability, and we believe that our competitors and counterparts in the industry will join us.
Third, the industry should carefully evaluate its business model. For decades, exploration and production companies have relied on outsourcing work to specialized contractors. There's much that makes sense about this kind of structure, and lots of talented people and well-run companies are a part of it. But the question after the Deepwater Horizon accident is how all involved parties -- including exploration and production companies and drilling contractors -- can work even more closely together to better understand and significantly reduce the various risks associated with drilling operations.
Over the more than 100 years of its history, BP has taken pride in operating at the frontiers of the energy industry, and we are committed to defining the new path forward.
Of course, actions speak louder than words, so we are fully prepared to be judged by the quality and effectiveness of our future conduct. I am confident we will learn from these terrible events and the industry will emerge stronger, smarter and safer than before.
Copyright (c) 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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